Holmes' strategy to stay cool in matchup with fiery Hopkins

Middleweights match grudges in N.Y. tonight



NEW YORK - For years, he has labored in the shadows cast by bigger-name attractions. Now, Keith Holmes says, the time has come for him to step into the sunlight and announce himself to the world as the standout fighter he always has believed himself to be.

Holmes (35-2, 23 KOs) puts his World Boxing Council middleweight championship on the line against International Boxing Federation champ Bernard Hopkins (38-2-1, 28 KOs) tonight in the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

"I think it's very disrespectful people are overlooking me," Holmes said. "But I don't let things upset me that easy. Anger can throw you off focus."

It is his self-control, an ability not to give in to the frustration of his circumstances, that Holmes said will enable the 6-1 underdog to tame Hopkins and the raging demons the challenger apparently carries inside him.

Hopkins might seethe about the lack of respect and recognition he has received for much of his career, but "The Executioner" from North Philadelphia is practically a household name in comparison with Holmes, a lean left-hander from Washington.

"Keith Holmes is going to quit in that ring," said Hopkins, who has derided Holmes as a puppet and a paper champion. "I'm going to make him quit. He's baby-sitting that belt for me."

Imagine Hopkins making those sort of comments before a matchup with, say, Roberto Duran. The Panamanian would have been transformed into a singular mass of fury.

Holmes has lost his cool before, most notably at a news conference in Washington several weeks ago when he and Hopkins engaged in a shouting match. Now, Holmes says that any attempt to match Hopkins insult for insult is a fool's errand, playing into the Philadelphian's hands.

"I was out of place," he said of the anger he flashed at that Washington gathering. "I was ready to fight that day. It had nothing to do with him or what he was saying; I was just ready to fight.

"But, see, my reacting to him like that is just what he wants. I believe that's one of his strategies going into a fight. Not only does he want to make his opponent crazy, but he needs to do something to get himself motivated, to pump himself up. He's a fearful man."

Holmes could find plenty of reasons to throw a fit, if that were his intention. He could complain, for instance, that he is receiving slightly less money - a career-high $1 million, to $1.05 million for Hopkins, also a career high.

"Really? I didn't know that," Holmes said, when informed of the purse disparity. "Hey, it doesn't bother me. I'm happy to be getting what I'm getting or else I wouldn't have signed for the fight."

Tonight's winner, Holmes is aware, moves on to a Sept. 15, clear-the-decks matchup with the winner of a May 12 pairing of World Boxing Association middleweight champion William Joppy (32-1-1, 24 KOs) and WBA/IBF super-welterweight titlist Felix Trinidad (39-0, 32 KOs).

"You wait and you wait and you wait for a chance like this to come along, and here it is," Holmes said. "The entire boxing world will be focused on this tournament, and I'm in it. I'm very thankful of that and I intend to make the most of the opportunity."

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